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UK robots set to grow by 3% by 2016

By Laurence Gibbons , 18-Dec-2012
Last updated the 21-Dec-2012 at 11:54 GMT

The UK market for robots will grow by 3.4% from 2011 to 2016 as a result of increased investment in automation by food and drink manufacturers, according to market analyst IMS Research.

Advances in machine vision, sensing and gripping will lead to more manufacturers adopting robots in a bid to provide faster production lines, ensure products are ‘right first time’ and increase throughput, the analyst claimed.

Kiran Patel, an analyst with IMS Research, said: “The market [for overall sales of robots in the UK] is currently valued at approximately £61M. Over the next four years we predict the value will increase as less work will be carried out manually.”

Patel noted that while economic uncertainty might inhibit investment in the short term, the market would definitely grow over the longer term.

Rising wages in China

Rising wages in China would lead to a slowdown of manufacturing there and, Patel predicted, more manufacturing would take place in the UK. He added that firms would increasingly look to robots to meet their production requirements.

“Traditionally, work has been carried out by hand in regions of low labour cost, such as China,” said Patel. “In recent years, wages have been rising in China by around 14% a year, according to Chinese government statistics; also young people are more likely to enter further education than pursue industrial apprenticeships. Consequently, labour has become more scarce and expensive.

This will come as welcome news to robot manufacturers selling into the UK, which claim they are currently “not doing enough business with food manufacturers”.

 ‘Not doing enough business’

Jim Carr, sales and senior manager at Kawasaki Robotics UK, said that despite some of the UK’s biggest food firms embracing robotics, many others do not see the benefits of installing them in their production lines.

“We have some big names using robotics, including Heinz, Greencore and Dairy Crest,” said Carr. “You would think with those companies on board it would promote automation to other firms, but many do not see the appeal.”

Carr said the reason UK food and drink manufacturers had not embraced robotics was because of the ready pool of people available to carry out the work – particularly from central and eastern European countries.

But Martin Walder, industries manager with Rockwell Automaton, disputed this view. He said an absence of skilled labour was preventing the growth of robot sales to the food sector.

Walder said engineering in the UK had been on a steady decline since the loss of Rover in 2005. He added that young people were not being inspired to take up careers in engineering and it was up to the automation to actively attract new employees.

“We need to make a real push to get more people back into engineering through apprenticeships,” said Walder. “Young people aren’t considering it as a career; it is not seen as exciting and people are not educated well on it in schools.”

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